Do Self-help Books Work? (Why They Might Not Work For You)

Do self-help books work? 

I think that’s the wrong question.

The right one would have been, have you applied what the book says and how it says it for x number of months? 

Where X is how fast you can implement your learning? 

In other words, we have to be willing to do the work before you start asking if they work.

Of course, we have to admit that some self-help books are not fit for you.

In fact, you should ask this question before picking one of them: what are the best self-help books? 

Make it specific: what are the best books on the topic of discipline?

Picking just any book with the subtitle ‘Change Your Life’ or ‘Be Smarter’ or ‘Get Better’ won’t help as much, but books that attend to specific topics, though they are self-help. 

One of the greatest self-help books of all time (personal preference), Think and Grow Rich, attends to the topic of ‘mindset’ and ‘determination’ a lot deeper. 

7 Habits of Highly Effective is my favorite book on handling relationships with others, especially in business or leadership.  

The Richest Man in Babylon explains wealth-building in its simplest form. 

So, do self-help books work? 

Well,  it depends. Self-help books work if they are written by people with the right knowledge or experience and if the reader is in the right place and mindset to apply the read information.

They work if 

1. You’re ready to do the work 

Self-help books are like a manual on how to drive a car. You need to get in the driver’s seat and start using the instructions. So, be ready to work on the ideas of this type to get the full potential of their effectiveness. 

2. The book has a specific central topic 

Be wary of books that want to talk about everything. The best self-help books are very specific in their central idea. 

Thinking Fast and Slow is about decision-making

Atomic Habits is about habits and compound interest. 

The famous book Man’s Search For Meaning is about finding meaning in life, especially when you have many reasons to give up on life. 

So, when the topic is specific enough, you should get interested.  It doesn’t mean it will be useful yet. Check the list for other signs a self-help book is good. 

3. The book is the author’s experience about a specific subject 

Not usually, but the best of them is about the author’s knowledge, expertise, and curiosity. Rarely will you see a great self-help book not from the main author working hard at something and using their field of study or experience to share light on the topic. 

It is advisable to check some stories about authors to see how far they have come or what areas they have worked. 

And when the book isn’t backed by their personal quests or experience, it is… 

4. The book is backed by true stories or research 

The very great self-help books are backed by both research and personal experience around the topic. Victor Frankl’s books about his experience in a concentration camp and his line of expertise as a psychotherapist have led to further research on the subject of logotherapy.

Nevertheless, scientific research is usually the bedrock of great self-help books. 

The Defining Decade by Meg Jay is an example. The author is a clinical psychologist and has met a lot of twentysomethings in her field of work. The book, too, is backed by research about the brain and human development in 20-year-olds

Another example of a great self-help book backed by great stories is Mastery by Robert Green. 

5. It’s recommended by other professionals on the subject or people who have used it 

I will always recommend the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to anyone starting a job or business. Every year, I still read this review of the book to remind me of how great and valuable the ideas are. 

I will recommend Slight Edge to anyone new to self-help books. All the books I mentioned in the early paragraphs of this article are great, too. 

In some self-help books, other professionals or people with reputations wrote the foreword to signal that it is a great or recommended read. If you have mentors, they will usually recommend some to you. Those are self-help books that work, and you should try them out. 

But don’t forget to do the work. 

Books,  after all, are still manual. So, if you ask, do self-help books work? The first response is, have you worked on it? You pick Atomic Habits, for instance; you should work on your habits for some time. You read my article on how to become a rich writer, and then you go out there and apply what you read again and again. It usually works. Most times. It just takes time and commitment.